By Jeff Goldberg
Cold Hard Football Facts Birthday Boy
George Carlin famously described the fundamental differences between football and baseball. But for the Houston Texans in 2010, there was a definite baseball theme, one that had the shell-shocked home fans spooked by visions of Brad Lidge giving up bombs to Albert Pujols in the bottom of the ninth.
No team in 2010 was victimized by the walk-off victory more than the Texans, who saw three games slip through their hands – including one quite literally – on the final play of the game, two of which wiped out furious fourth-quarter comebacks by the always-prolific offense.
Turn those three losses to the Jaguars, Jets and Ravens around and the 6-10 Texans coulda been a contendah! Instead, it was another year of offensive highlights and mind-numbing lowlights on defense for Gary Kubiak's crew, which wasted the breakout performance of 2010 by running back Arian Foster, who made fantasy players drool with delight for snagging the first-year starter late in their drafts.
But that was about all that went right for the Texans.
The 2010 Storyline: Arian Nation? Absolutely. Supremacy? Not so much.
The Vital Signs
2010 record: 6-10 (24.4 PPG – 26.7 PPG)
Last five seasons overall: 37-43 (.463)
Best Quality Stat in 2010: Quarterback Rating (2nd)
Worst Quality Stat in 2010: Defensive Passer Rating (32nd)
All Quality Stats
Defensive Passing YPA: 31st
Quarterback Rating: 2nd
Defensive Quarterback Rating: 31st
Relativity Index: 18th
Statistical curiosity of 2010
The Texans were the only team in the NFL to gain over 6,000 yards of offense (6,168), the third-most in the league, while also allowing over 6,000 yards on defense (6,031), also the third-most in the league.
Best game of 2010
35-31 win vs. Kansas City (Week 6). For a time in 2010, it was the Texans who mastered the art of the last-gasp victory. They did it against Washington in Week 2 and they struck again against the Chiefs in Week 6, scoring a pair of touchdowns in the final four minutes – the latter a Matt Schaub-Andre Johnson connection with 28 seconds left – to erase a 10-point deficit. The Texans were coming off a miserable loss to the Giants in Week 5 and raised their record to 4-2, as Schaub passed for 305 yards and two touchdowns on 25-for-33 passing, earning a rating of 123.8. Johnson had eight catches for 138 yards and the game-winning TD. But this proved the high-water mark of Houston's season.
Worst game of 2010
31-24 loss at Jacksonville (Week 10). It was the play of the year. Unfortunately for the Texans, they were on the wrong side of it. All Texans defensive back Glover Quin had to do was knock the ball down at the goal-line and we're on to overtime. Quin got the first part right, batting away David Garrard's 50-yard Hail Mary pass on the final play of a 24-24 game. One problem: Quin batted it right to Jaguars receiver Mike Thomas, who caught the ricochet in the endzone for the most improbable ending in years. It was just the fourth regular-season game in NFL history to end on a TD pass of 50 yards or more and dropped the shocked Texans to 4-5, sending them deeper into a second-half slide.
Best and Worst game of 2010
34-28 overtime loss vs. Baltimore (Week 14). At this point, the Texans were merely playing for pride, having lost 5 of 6 to fall to 5-7 and out of contention in the AFC South entering this Monday night clash with the Ravens. And pride seemed to be in short supply when David Reed took the second-half opening kickoff 103 yards for a 28-7 Ravens lead.
But the Texans made a stand worthy of the Alamo, scoring on drives of 99 and 95 yards in the final six minutes of regulation to force overtime. Schaub was never more heroic as he winged the Texans down the field on both drives, finally connecting with Johnson with 21 seconds left to bring the Texans within 28-26, then connecting again with the Johnson on the two-point conversion to force overtime.
Schaub went 15-for-23 for 160 yards and two touchdowns in the final two drives (150.7 passer rating), after going 16-for-39, 233, 1 TD, 2 INT in the first 54 minutes (100.0 PR).
But the theme this season was walk-off loss, and this game proved no different as Schaub threw one right to the Ravens' Josh Wilson in overtime for the game-losing pick-six.
Running game. The Texans decided to give Arian Foster the keys to the running game, and Foster did not disappoint, rushing for a league-leading 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns, despite not wearing No. 16. Foster's breakout season, which began immediately with a 231-yard, 3-touchdown destruction of the Colts in Week 1, helped propel the Texans to the third-best yards-per-attempt average (4.83) and third-best overall Offensive Hog Index ranking.
It should be noted that of the two teams with a higher YPA, one was the Eagles, which utilized Michael Vick as a runner, making Foster's performance look a shade better. With Foster running, Schaub posted the second-best passer rating in the league and the Texans were sixth in Passing YPA. Moving the ball on offense was not the problem in Houston.
Pass defense. Like Air Coryell of an earlier age. The only the thing the Texans did better than put up yards was allow them. Teams threw and threw and threw on the Texans all season long, and Houston was powerless to stop it, especially after losing defensive end Conner Barwin in Week 1 and linebacker Demeco Ryans in Week 6 to season-ending injuries, as well as the four-game suspension to Brian Cushing to start the year and an injury to Mario Williams to end it.
Undermanned all season, the Texans were last in the league in Defensive Passer Rating and second-to-last in Defensive Passing YPA and Defensive Quarterback Rating. You can't win in the NFL if you don't stop the pass, and the Texans did not stop the pass.
General off-season strategy/overview
Improve the defense. Kubiak took the first step in the defensive reclamation project by firing defensive coordinator Frank Bush and bringing in Wade Phillips, who will use a 3-4 alignment, instead of a 4-3. Ryans is still recovering from his injury and the outside linebacker position is one the Texans must address, as well as cornerback.
If Jacoby Jones can continue to improve as the opposite receiver to Johnson, and Owen Daniels, who played well at the end of the season, can stay healthy, the offense is primed for another big year, allowing the Texans to put all their focus on rebuilding the porous D.
Totally premature 2011 diagnosis
The Texans addressed their needs at running back before last season and delivered with Foster. If they can have the same instant success repairing the defense, there's no reason to think the Texans can't finally get over the hump and compete for a division title, especially with the Colts perhaps starting to slide and the Jaguars and Titans hardly formidable. Schaub has managed to stay healthy for two seasons in a row. It could finally be his time to join the pantheon of great quarterbacks.